Appliance repair scheme operating on both sides of Mississippi, BBB says
From Better Business Bureau
ST. LOUIS – Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about a national appliance repair scheme involving what appear to be hundreds of businesses with bogus names and addresses, including dozens in the St. Louis area.
All of the questionable businesses seem to be tied to The Appliance Repair Men, which also uses the name The Appliance Repairmen. The Appliance Repair Men is a four-year-old company with headquarters in Tempe, Ariz. James Mansperger and Peter Cetera from the Tempe-Phoenix area are listed as company owners.
The deceptive repair businesses are listed in community phone directories and on the Internet. The Appliance Repair Men apparently created the companies using local phone numbers, fake names and fake addresses in an effort to make it appear that they have offices in local neighborhoods. The addresses for repair businesses checked by BBB, in fact, are usually the addresses of established restaurants and other businesses. The local telephone numbers for the businesses all are directed to a call center run by The Appliance Repair Men.
The Appliance Repair Men has an “F” rating with BBB in Phoenix, as a result of several unanswered complaints.
Last month, a homeowner from Webster Groves said he was stunned to learn the business he called to repair his gas range – Webster Groves Appliance Repair – was not a real company, but rather a business created by The Appliance Repair Men.
He said he assumed the business was local when he found it listed in the most recent St. Louis area Yellow Pages directory with a local phone number and local address.
The homeowner said “things started smelling a little fishy” when he got a phone call from an unidentified, out-of-state phone number confirming his repair appointment.
The homeowner said he became increasingly suspicious when he drove to 122 E. Lockwood Ave., the address listed in the directory for Webster Groves Appliance Repair, and instead found a pizza restaurant at the location. He said he immediately canceled the appointment.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, condemned apparent efforts by The Appliance Repair Men to deceive the public.
“For a company to claim fake business names and addresses in St. Louis and make them look like local appliance repair shops just to collect finders’ fees, is unethical,” Corey said. “If a company wants to run an appliance referral business, it should be upfront about it.” She said consumers who reach the dispatch service have no way of knowing exactly who will be coming to their homes.
Complaints tied to The Appliance Repair Men have come from across the St. Louis region.
A landlord from St. Charles said one of her tenants contacted St. Charles Appliance Repair last fall to repair a washing machine. The landlord said she and the tenant thought the business was local because it listed a local phone number and a street address in St. Charles – 1151 S. Duchesne Dr. The landlord said she spoke to a technician and asked him not to make any repairs until she had approved the work. The landlord said the technician ignored her request and billed the consumer $116 for unnecessary work, then refused to refund the money. The invoice, from The Appliance Repairmen, included only a toll-free phone number and no address.
The South Duchesne address listed for St. Charles Appliance Repair actually is a Mexican restaurant that has been at the location for several years.
Maplewood Appliance Repair, an apparent affiliate of The Appliance Repair Men, lists the address of a White Castle restaurant at 7845 Manchester Road.
A Wood River consumer said he contacted what he thought was Wood River Appliance Repair to make repairs on his range. A technician who came to his home charged him $100, saying he would order a part for the stove and return to install it. The technician never returned, and the consumer has been unable to contact the technician or obtain a refund. The consumer later discovered that the address listed by Wood River Appliance Repair – 1224 East Edwardsville Road – actually is the address of a Long John Silver’s Seafood Shoppes restaurant. The phone number for the technician is disconnected.
A consumer from Arnold, Mo., said she called a listing for Arnold Appliance Repair, believing the business was local. Workers who came to her home not only failed to fix her washing machine, but disappeared with a $200 payment they said they needed to order a part. The woman later learned she actually called The Appliance Repair Men, who dispatched a repair crew to her home. She discovered the address listed for Arnold Appliance Repair, like the address of St. Charles Appliance Repair, also is a Mexican restaurant.
“It is absolutely very deceptive and misleading,” she said.
Consumers outside the St. Louis area recount similar experiences.
A homeowner in Arlington, Texas, said he checked the Internet in July for a refrigerator repair shop in his community and found a listing for Arlington Appliance Repair. He said he paid $355 to a technician who said he would order parts for the refrigerator and return to install them. The technician never returned, and, after numerous phone calls to the business, the consumer drove to the listed address for Arlington Appliance Repair. He said the address was an empty building. After threatening to file court action against the company, the consumer finally received a refund. “I can’t believe these people are able to operate like this.”
In the St. Louis area alone, BBB found more than 40 listings for businesses that do not actually exist and which are tied to The Appliance Repair Men. They include Alton Appliance Repair, Ballwin Appliance Repair, Ferguson Appliance Repair, University City Appliance Repair and Ladue Appliance Repair.
More than 20 of the companies are listed in the 2015-2016 edition of the Greater St. Louis Yellowbook Yellow Pages. All show local phone numbers and local addresses. But the addresses actually are the addresses of a variety of unrelated businesses including several pizza restaurants, bars, an ice cream business, a bakery and a computer repair store.
On its website, The Appliance Repair Men calls itself the largest appliance repair company in the U.S., serving all 50 states. It says the company averages more than 100,000 repairs a year and has a “stringent screening process of all technicians” that “gets customers to keep coming back.”
Consumers told BBB that when they phoned what they believed to be a local repair shop, a customer service representative immediately asked for an upfront diagnostic or service fee of between $55 and $70, to be paid via credit or debit card. Several consumers said they did not know that their calls were directed to a call center representative who then dispatched a local technician to the consumer’s home. Often, they said, the technician never identified his actual company.
BBB has been unable to reach any of the local technicians who were dispatched.
When BBB emailed a list of questions to The Appliance Repair Men, a company official asked for a meeting with BBB in Phoenix. BBB Phoenix responded that the company should first respond to the questions, at which time BBB would decide whether a meeting was warranted. The company did not respond to the questions by a Nov. 19 deadline.
BBB offers the following tips to consumers looking for an appliance repair business:
Research the business and owners carefully before signing a contract or paying any money. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling (314) 645-3300.
If a business lists a local address, it is a good idea to verify that the business actually is at that location.
Ask about upfront diagnostic or service fees before making an appointment for a service call. Once a technician has arrived, it is usually too late to cancel the visit.
When calling to make an appointment, ask whether the business employs its own technicians or contracts the work out to someone else.
Pay by credit card whenever possible in case you need to challenge the charge.
Get any warranty information in writing.
Make sure you get the first and last name and contact information for the technician who comes to your home. Ask for proof of any required licenses or certification.
Before you do business with a charity or company, check its BBB Business Review or BBB Charity Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.